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Yes - Close To The Edge CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.66 | 4367 ratings

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5 stars With Fragile, Yes had firmly established itself as one of the premier prog rock groups in Britain. Alas, they had yet to fufill a necessary obligation, a rite of passage if you will, needed to associate with big shots (much like reviewing this album is a progarchives rite of passage) - a sidelong composition. Sure, sure, they'd cracked the ten-minute barrier with "Heart of the Sunrise," but that would hardly do the trick. After all, ELP had had "Tarkus," Genesis was about to put out "Supper's Ready," King Crimson had had, er, "Lizard," not to mention Jethro Tull with Thick as a Brick and so on. Even groups that weren't necessarily "pure" prog rock in the strictest sense of the word, like Pink Floyd and Procol Harum, had had sidelong tracks. So Yes just had to keep up.

Thing is, though, none of these tracks had really been "20-minute songs" in the truest sense. Pretty much all of them fell into one of two categories: (a) several "conventional" pop and rock songs strung together with instrumental breaks instead of pauses, with a couple of reprises here and there to provide a proper feeling of "completion" at the end, and (b) lengthy multi-part noodles that didn't really have much connection with conventional song structure at all. Now, one may certainly argue that these two ways are the preferred way to approach a side-long track; with the former, the tracks could easily be split into different songs and listened to separately (er, if you had that capability with your listening device), and with the latter you could just lose yourself in jazzy noodly goodness (or badness, depending).

So Yes took a different route, a route that was both simpler and more complicated than what had previously been attempted. And what was that route? Well, first of all, examine the basic structure of a pop song, at its most stripped-down level: Intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus/middle8/instrumental-break/verse/chorus/outro. To this point, the general idea had been to make the basic verse and chorus melodies as compact as possible, with a minimal amount of development and deconstruction. But, smart men they were, Yes realized that this structure could just as well support lengthy, intensely developed and complex verse melodies. And so they went this route, and in essence created the world's first 19-minute pop song.

Now, of course, this artistic path is fraught with peril. Lengthy tracks of the 'conventional' manner all had an important safeguard - if one of the 'themes' they wrote turned out to be unlistenable crap, this would be somewhat countered by the fact it would be short, as the band would soon move to better things. In other words, if the 'main themes' that Yes would come up for their epic piece weren't absolutely top-of-the-line, the song they were constructing would end up, potentially, as aural fecal matter. In short, if the band wasn't making quantity of musical ideas their main goal, they sure as heck needed to worry about the quality.

Ah, but that's what makes the song so amazing - I can tell you, with nary a doubt in my mind, that the band pulled this feat off amazingly. First things first, the band probably realized the potential accusations of "lack of diversity" that would come their way, so they compensated by throwing all sorts of influences into the pot at one time and running with the finished product. I mean, take a step back and consider for a second all of the many musical descriptions that CTTE has received in reviews found online; taken all together, the song is a 19 minute free-form-electric-acid-jazzrock/ambient piece with a pop song structure, a classical "form" (well, on the surface anyway, though not really in the guts) and hints of reggae. And every one of those individual descriptions is accurate! Not to mention all of the incredible melodic and vocal hooks found throughout, or (as described below) the brilliant layering of vocal harmonies in places.

The playing deserves special mention as well, even with Yes, where virtuosity is a given. With this album (and song), Yes probably reached its peak as far as collective playing goes. The key to this, actually, was a very slight reduction in the role of Chris Squire - his parts on the album are great, don't get me wrong, but he no longer 'leads the way' for the band. And that is the key - nobody and everybody leads the way here, as one can feel the intense care taken to make sure that nothing overshadows anything else (except in rare instances like Rick's solo). Hence, whereas Chris' role was reduced a smidge, Wakeman was finally unleashed, while Bruford finally demonstrated that, without a doubt, he was the greatest drummer in the prog rock world (and arguably in rock music, but that's another topic).

We meet this "re-tooled" Yes in part one of the title track, entitled "Solid Time of Change." Atmospheric sounds of a river and chirping birds interspersed with synth tinklings greet us, becoming louder bit by bit, until we are met with a loud, strangely discordant guitar assault backed by crawling bass lines and aggressive drumming before Rick gets into the action with his synth loops. It works its way through three segments, each punctuated with emphatic "AAAAHH!!!" (or in the case of the final one, "dah! dah!") vocal outbursts before making its way into the "Close to the Edge theme." This in turn develops itself, proving to be a hummable piece if you can get past the minor key, before giving way to the main chunk of the song, called up by an echoey, quick call from Bill's drums.

And what a strange piece this "main chunk" is. Driven forward by a rising series of Howe riffing and periodic chiming in from Chris, it also features, arguably, the least immediately gratifying vocal part from Jon Anderson yet. That doesn't mean I don't like it, nor that one can't grow to love it very quickly (of course, I had no problem with it from the getgo, so whatever), but Jon has never sounded more alien than in this song portion. His vocal tone here is impossible to describe if not yet heard, not to mention that the vocal melody is *ahem* non-trivial, and the lyrics (on the first few readings, anyways) can come across as nonsensical jibberish. Of course, they're really not (the piece as a whole, actually, contains strong references to Siddartha by Herman Hesse), but if you've hated Jon's lyrics to this point, this may be the point where you swear never to give the band a chance lyrically again. In any case, though, the melody winds along before we hit a series of "vocal exclamations" (e.g. "Close to the edge, down by the corner, not right away! Not right away!") that in turn lead us into the, um, reggaish portion of the melody. Don't fret, though - strange as it may seem, the transition between the two disparate halves of the melody is virtually seamless.

Eventually, section one ends, and we move into part two, entitled "Total Mass Retain," which is essentially a redux of the music of the first ... or is it? The basic melody is the same, but witness all of the subtle changes from before. Chris' bass begins playing a thumping riff, Rick plays an upward cascading synth riff again and again, and Jon's ennunciation becomes slightly sharper. Most importantly, listen to the way these parts mesh - this is a VERY complex interlocking of arrangements, and as a corollary the intensity of the piece picks up even further. Even the vocal exclamations, with Jon and co. singing out the "close to the edge down by the corner down by the edge round by the river" and so on part between ominous chording from Rick are more complex than before. Of course, the reggaish part is the same as before, but this time it resolves itself in some pleasant, though still quite complex noodling led by Rick's synths.

And then, of course, we enter the centerpiece of the track, the heavenly "I Get Up I Get Down." Even putting aside for a moment the beautiful atmospherics (suggesting an oasis of some kind), or the beautiful vocal melody, this chunk is incredible because the vocal harmonies are GORGEOUS. Of course, what the lyrics exactly mean may be hard to tell (though it's fairly obvious that there allusions to the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ), but I don't really care here - the point here is to use sound, not words, to dig into the soul of the listener. And oh man oh man, they pull it off. The alternation and interplay between low (Howe and Squire) and high (Anderson) is positively astounding, not to mention the well- timed placement of Wakeman's majestic organs.

Of course, all good things come to an end, so this middle portion eventually closes out - but even in ending the "IGUIGD" sequence, the band goes all out. Words cannot begin to express the feelings I have as Rick buiilds the climax to this part, and then dissipates it all away before Howe's (or Wakeman's? Live it was clearly done with keyboards, but it's awfully noisy and distorted here) triple-call suddenly wrests us back into the "main chunk" This time around, Howe plays the "CTTE theme" with far more venom and distortion than before while Chris pulsates underneath, gradually pushing the band towards yet another climax with the help of Rick. And once again, Rick provides release, this time through an entertaining and impressive-yet-not-out-of-place keyboard solo (it isn't just atmospherics, it is a true counterpoint to the main theme in the literal sense).

From this comes the third instance of the main melody of the piece, yet once again things are different. For lack of a better term, the arrangements have now become a hybrid of the arrangements of parts one and two. Not to mention that, instead of heading into the reggaish part after the first chunk of the melody, the band now moves in for the kill with the grandiose finale, layering their harmonies and arrangements in a way that, honestly, should be able to move even the most hard-nosed skeptic. And, of course, the band fittingly leaves us with an incredible reprise of "I Get Up I Get Down" chantings, before fading out with the same river and such arrangements as began the piece.

Oh yeah, there's also a second side here, imagine that. Of course, neither "And You And I" nor "Siberian Khatru" quite match the sweeping grandiosity (and incredible music) of the title track, but they make a good stab at it nonetheless. On these two songs, the band mostly employs the same "quality, not quantity" ideology that ruled the first side, and once again they succeed marvelously. "And You And I," for starters, is centered around a very clever, very 'jaunty', very catchy acoustic ditty with occasional synths here and there. This theme comes around twice, in parts one and three, but of course there are significant differences between the two occurences. In particular, part three's (otherwise known as "Preacher the Teacher") verse melody is better developed melodically, whereas part one, while also developed well, is most notable for the interesting distortion effects placed on Chris' and Steve's backing vocals.

Of course, this melody, catchy as it may be, pales in comparison to the real reason everybody loves this song. Both "Eclipse" and "Apocalypse," but especially "Eclipse," contain one of the most incredibly beautiful stretches of music I've ever heard. The way the organs majestically rise up, accompanied by some of the most gorgeous use of slide guitar known to man, while Anderson's vocals contribute incredibly appropriate mystical lyrics for such an occasion, is an experience that any serious listener of the song shall not soon forget.

Following the beauty is the rockin', provided by "Siberian Khatru." Now, again, I will not deny that there aren't too many melodical ideas presented within this track ... but what's here is absolute gold. How can anybody deny the coolness of that funky opening riff in 15/4? Or the danceable (ha!) main instrumental melody, or the abundance of vocal hooks?? Or the harpsichord break??!!! I know I can't! Not only all that, but the way it is gradually built and developed positively astounds my mind. Not to mention, of course, that it contains what I've considered Bruford's single finest performance with Yes. And I'll tell you what, I love the ending complex sequence of "dah!" harmonic screams before the band fades out jamming.

So ... after all that, let's play a little devil's advocate; despite all my (perhaps excessive and bloated) praising, this is not one of my 20 favorite albums (it's currently #23), and not even my favorite Yes album. The biggest thing is that I can very easily understand why somebody wouldn't love this album. This is not an album that can really be judged highly from a 'conventional' point of view, seeing as it's more of a symphony (not in form, but in feel) than anything else. And as I mentioned earlier, if you don't like one of the ideas presented on this album, you'll be in trouble, because there isn't a ton of diversity in the musical ideas here (and for all the love I feel towards the album, there are a couple of moments here and there where the noodling doesn't thrill me). I also love it less than Fragile because Fragile had a tinge more 'self-deflation' than this album does (that lack of self-deflation may be a positive to others, but ehn, not to me).

But, well, that's really of the complaining I can muster for this album. If you like early 70's prog rock, but don't like this for some reason, then I'm utterly perplexed.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |


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